Roberta FitzGerald remembers how her grandmother, Anna McGillicuddy Damon, thought so highly of nurses that she made a Red Cross uniform for the toddler during World War II. 

“I think that was the start of my desire to become a nurse,” says FitzGerald, who would go on to graduate in 1959 from Massachusetts General Hospital’s School of Nursing. “I always saw her helping people in the neighborhood when I was growing up, and that was a big influence on me.” 

To commemorate the 60th anniversary of FitzGerald’s graduation from the hospital’s former diploma school, she established a scholarship in her grandmother’s name for MGH Institute Doctor of Nursing Practice students through the Kay Bander Matching Gift Scholarship program. Over a dozen other donors created scholarships through the program. 

The Bander scholarship matched gifts over $25,000, strengthening the power of each donation. Bander had a front-row seat in the 1960s and 1970s, working with Institute founders Dr. John Hilton Knowles and Dr. Charles Sanders during their respective terms as general director of the MGH. When she died in 2017, her estate made a donation that allowed people through the end of 2018 to create an endowed scholarship. 

Several years ago, the IHP Board of Trustees began a concerted effort to increase the amount of money for student scholarships. Since then, that number has increased by almost 50 percent, to $6.5 million. But with graduating students facing an average debt of $108,000, a figure that includes undergraduate loans, the Bander scholarships will help the school advance its mission to provide financial support for students from all socioeconomic backgrounds. 

Initially, FitzGerald made one donation to the Bander scholarship but decided to double it when she heard it was a matching gift program. Her gifts are a fitting way to honor her grandmother, a woman who emigrated from Ireland with her family in 1883 when she was five and got a job to help her family’s finances instead of going to high school, a common occurrence in those times. 

“It’s amazing to have the name of a woman, who only was a grammar school graduate, on the scholarship for a doctoral program,” says FitzGerald, who after graduating went on to become the first chair of the committee that created Yale University’s direct-entry Master’s program. “And, you know, she would have made a wonderful nurse.”